Robbie Risner’s Seven Years in the Hanoi Hilton

Nine Feet Tall
By John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
February 2012

Seven years in Hanoi’s prisons did not dim Robbie Risner’s fighting spirit.

The picture on the Time magazine cover for April 23, 1965, was Air Force Lt. Col. Robinson Risner. The cover story, “The Fighting American,” featured 10 US military members in Vietnam, with fighter pilot Risner—a rising star in the Air Force—foremost among them.

“At the time it was a great honor,” Risner said. “But later, in prison, I would have much cause to regret that Time had ever heard of me.”

On Sept. 16, Risner was shot down over North Vietnam and captured. The additional bad news was that the North Vietnamese had seen Time magazine and knew who he was. “Some good soul from the United States had sent them the copy,” he said, “and they thought I was much more important than I ever was.”

The magazine article told them not only that Risner was an F-105 squadron commander who had led 18 missions against North Vietnam, but also that he was a Korean War ace, having shot down eight MiGs. It also disclosed details about his family. His captors knew they had an important officer and were determined to break him. “The Vietnamese regarded Robbie as their No. 1 one prized prisoner,” said Col. Gordon Larson, a fellow POW. “Robbie was by far the most abused POW there because of who they thought he was.” All of the POWs were tortured and ill-treated, but Risner got an extra portion.

Risner was a leader among the airmen held by the North Vietnamese, first as senior-ranking officer and then as vice commander of the 4th Allied POW Wing formed in Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” According to Larson, Risner was “the most influential and effective POW there.

2012-02-16T19:57:46+00:00 By |3 Comments

About the Author:

Rick Keyt has practiced law in Arizona since 1980. He flew the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force, including combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972. For more about Rick's bio including his F-4 bio see his resume on his law website. Connect with Richard at 480-664-7478 or on Google+


  1. Infinity March 8, 2013 at 10:29 am - Reply

    I would like to thank Col Risner’s service. I was the young girl, that woyou is POW bracelet so long ago. As I eagerly waited for him to come home, my hopes, and prayers I thought were not to be answered. Until I saw him walk off the plane, the last plane to land, come home, that wondrous day. As I cheered and danced around my living room, so thankful, happy, that he had come home. My prayers had been answered. His honor, courage, and service has stayed with me for all these years. Thinking often of him. Hoping his life has been of quality, and so deserving. Often I think back, of wearing the bracelet, and the days, of anticipation of his safe return home. His captivity, at times haunting me, in my dreams, and the abuse That he sustained for the good of me and all. I will forever be thankful. I pray thatare is still out there, living amongst the finest, and enjoying the best of the best this life has to offer. May he always have the wind at his back and the on his face. He will always be the hero I dreameyale was at 12 yrs old when I first put on the bracelet with his name inscribed on it. Once again I would like to thank him for his service. I wish I could have met this hero.

  2. Johnny Cee August 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    General Risner. A Great Man, A Very Good Christian.
    I Cr 13:8a, Love never fails!

  3. Rich S October 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Robbie Risner passed away on 22 Oct 13. GBU, Robbie. RIP

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